Thursday, 3 January 2013

Coffee, Coffee, Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink*

*lest it offend my Middle Class, Pinko, Guardian-reading credentials.
This post is, I'm afraid, a bit of a rant. Inspired by this story in the Guardian as well as the recent case of Costa wanting to, and subsequently not, opening in Totnes.
Put simply, there is a strand of thought on the left of politics that is - essentially - big company = bad, small company = good. And that big, bad companies should be STOPPED. Never mind that big companies are often successful because they offer a service and product that people want, at a price they're prepared to pay.
Totnes is a small place that somehow manages to support 42 independent places that sell coffee. 42! Costa wanted to open 1 branch and the locals were up in arms. Local retailers feared that the presence of a familiar chain in a (relatively) large outlet would attract visitors and take away trade. And, of course, they had a point. Some visitors would undoubtedly be attracted by the reliability and reputation of the chain - after all, that's the stock-in-trade of chains: consistency.
But surely competition is a good thing? And if the coffee and service at the numerous other outlets was good, they would survive? The locals would still patronise the local shops and there would still be tourists who came away with tales of "that lovely little place on Totnes High Street, sandwiched between a Crystal Shop and a Vegan Restaurant".
In the end, Costa decided that discretion was the better valour and withdrew. It means, though, that the good people of (and visitors to) Totnes can't choose local:

In the case of Harris and Hoole, people seem to be upset that an (albeit sizable) minority stakeholding by Tesco is not advertised. "It seems like a local business, the coffee was good, it was so brave of them to open next to Starbucks."
But surely any business has the right to determine its look, feel and trading style - if you feel duped, it's because you didn't even think to ask the question. And the fact that you couldn't reconcile the fact that you liked the product with your feelings for the supplier (or at least funder) of said product says more about you than them.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for supporting local shops and businesses. Indeed, I've taken my own stand when it comes to coffee, although that is more to do with contrived tax arrangements than anti-globalism. I'm also not in favour of big companies taking advantage of suppliers and producers - as so often happens. I don't believe that Tesco are squeaky-clean - but I don't think that that can be taken for granted with independent shops either.
Ultimately, though, the consumer has choices - and whilst the local and independent may take a bit of seeking out (Totnes is, after all, in deepest, darkest Devon) - if that's what you, as a consumer, want, then go for it. It's your choice, though. Movements like those in Totnes are about people of a certain train of thought preventing that choice for others. Ironic, as that's exactly what they accuse the multiples of doing.
P.S. If you're in South Bristol, you may like to choose Acappella's for your coffee.

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